Skip to content
Home » Blog » Canton, Ohio – A City Full of Surprises

Canton, Ohio – A City Full of Surprises

 By Dave Zuchowski   with photos and video by Bill Rockwell
Canton may not have the familiar ring of other Ohio cities, which all interestingly start with the letter C, as in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Though small in size compared to its larger siblings, Canton has an interesting trove of attractions nonetheless.
If you’re wondering, like I did, if this city of 73,007 gets its name from the much larger Chinese city of Canton (aka Ghouangzhou), the answer is maybe if you stretch it a bit. Founded in 1805 by surveyor Bezaleel Wells, the town is named in honor of  Captain John O’Donnell, whom Wells greatly admired. O’Donnell, the first person to transport goods from Canton, China, to Baltimore, named his Maryland estate Canton. As a tribute to O’Donnell, Wells named the newly founded Ohio city Canton. Or so the rather roundabout story goes.
Because of its numerous rail lines, Canton became a manufacturing center until a decline in the late 20th Century.  Since then, the city has shifted to a service economy and is now enjoying a downtown renaissance with a thriving arts and culture scene.
County Courthouse Downtown Canton.
Beautifully Lit at Night. The County Courthouse, Downtown Canton.

During a March visit and following dinner at the 330 Grill in the Doubletree Hotel downtown, I walked along Market Street to newly created Centennial Plaza and passed by the County Courthouse, an architectural gem, beautifully floodlit at night. Be sure to take note of the angels at the top of the tower of the Beaux Arts style building, now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Centennial Plaza Downtown Canton Ohio
Huge Canton Sign in Centennial Plaza Downtown Canton Ohio

Centennial Plaza, adjacent to the Canton Brewing Company, was built to celebrate last year’s 100th anniversary of the founding of the NFL in Canton no less. In addition to a high definition TV screen, a café and a 5,000 person event lawn, the plaza features 11 steles that recognize all the NFL players on active roster over the past century.

Canton Centennial Plaza
On axis with the Centennial Pavilion and Event Lawn is the iconic 65’ tall stainless-steel Rotunda Spires. The Rotunda sculpture gracefully suggests that of a four-seemed football.



While the 2021 NFL football season is still months away and, if the current football vacuum has left you edgy, you might want to consider visiting the Pro Football Hall of Fame for some pigskin relief.





Main Front Entrance to Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Main Front Entrance to Pro Football Hall of Fame. Phot courtesy Visit Canton.


Visitors inside the Hall of Fame.
Visitors enjoy the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Hall opened in 1963 to honor the players, coaches, owners and others who made significant contributions to the sport. Since then, the building has undergone numerous expansions and gained international interest as a tourist destination in the process. Hundreds of thousands visit the sports shrine each year, except in 2020 due to the corona virus epidemic, when attendance was understandingly down.
If you’re wondering why Canton, the answer is threefold.  First the NFL (then called the American Professional Football Association), was founded there in September 1920. Then too, the Canton Bulldogs (now defunct) was the League’s first team to win two championship titles (in 1922 and 23). Lastly, a city-wide fundraiser brought in nearly $400,000 (more than $2,640,000 in today’s currency) to build the Hall.

As of 2020, 326 candidates have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame Gallery, an almost reverential space where bronze busts of all the “Gold Jacket” members are on display. With the simple touch of a screen, visitors can retrieve information on each inductee such as a bio and photos and videos.

Lombardi Trophy on Display.
The Lombardi Trophy Crafted of Sterling Silver by Tiffany and Company.

Enshrinement Week for the 2020 Centennial Year was postponed due to the coronavirus. The 20 selections will, however, be inducted this year on August 7, a day before the 2021 selections will be inducted. Enshrinement Week (Aug. 5-8) includes the annual Hall of Fame Game in adjacent Tom Benson Stadium pitting the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 5.

To be eligible for induction, a player or coach must be retired for 5 years. A committee of 48, mainly made up of media from NFL cities, usually select 4 to 8 inductees each year.

All Enshrinement Week events are open to the public, and tickets can be purchased by phoning 844-751-0532.
Interestingly, the original building is a round structure, the top of which appears to be pierced by a large football-shaped protuberance that covers a two story rotunda. Visitors can enter the rotunda via a new entrance that empties into the NFL’s First Century Gallery. There, they can experience the story of pro football from its very beginnings in 1920 through today via unique artifacts and hi-tech interactives.
The space documents inspirational stories of players, coaches and events, including the “Road to Equality.” Black players did play in the early years of the NFL but were later “phased out.” The league was all-White from 1930 to 1946, when it was reintegrated after the Los Angeles Rams signed tailback Kenny Washington and Woody Strode and the Browns (in the AAFC) signed Marion Motley and  Bill Willis. The date was one year before the Dodgers broke the baseball color barrier by including Jackie Robinson on the team.

In the Hunt/Casterlane Gallery you’ll find the most valued and highest rated football card collection in the world.  With over 300,000 cards, the collection includes Rookie cards for every Hall inductee, including the most highly graded one for Joe Namath.

If you like taking selfies, stop by the Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery and enjoy a photo op standing next to a replica of the Lombardi Trophy, a 7-pound, sterling silver award designed by Tiffany.

Visitors can also learn informational tidbits like the fact that Lamar Hunt came up with the title “Super Bowl” when he saw his children playing with a toy called Super Ball. While in the gallery, scan the exhibit of every Super Bowl championship ring from the 54 championship teams.

For a bit of a rest, take a seat in the Super Bowl Theater where you can get an up close and personal, ground-level look at the 2019 season and highlights from Super Bowl LIV.

Other areas of interest include the Pro Football Today Gallery, artifacts from the inductee class of 2020 in the Locker Room exhibit, a look at women in football and artifacts from the Black College Football Hall of Fame, the Unites States Football League and the history of the NFL’s Sunday Night Football.

For an exciting adventure, drop in at the Game of Life Theater where holograms of football legends like George Halas, Joe Namath and Vince Lombardi appear on stage and tell examples of how football inspired them and taught them lessons they could use in everyday life.
For more information, phone 330-456-8207 or

Fun Video on Canton by Bill Rockwell.

In the near future the adjacent Hall of Fame Village will become home to the Hall of Fame Waterpark, The Eleven (A Hilton Tapestry Hotel), Constellation Center for Excellence, Center for Performance, Retail Promenade, and Play-Action Plaza. Through the assets built in Phase II, the Village will become a full destination home to concerts and sporting events where fans from all across the nation can visit, stay, and enjoy.”
The proposed cost of construction is $300 million.
A 15 minute ride away in the charming town of Massillon, the Paul Brown Museum is a museum within a museum. The galleries are dedicated to the memory of the man who invented the modern game of football, the namesake of the Cleveland Browns and one of the greatest football coaches ever to have lived.

The Paul Brown Museum.
The Man: The Paul Brown Museum.

The museum, 121 Lincoln Way East,  holds artifacts from Brown’s own collection, uniforms, photos, an interactive app and space devoted to the Massillon Tigers, the team that launched Brown’s coaching career. Phone 330-833-4061.
Back in downtown Canton the First Ladies Museum opened in June 1998 in the former home of Ida Saxton McKinley and long time residence of  President William McKinley. The public rooms of the house have been restored to include period furnishings and historical wallpaper.

First Ladies Museum in the Historic Saxton-McKinley House.
In Canton, the First Ladies Museum in the Historic Saxton-McKinley House.

The museum’s education and research center, located a block away, takes a look at the lives and legacies of the nation’s 48 First Ladies and how their roles developed over time. The current exhibit, “First Ladies on the Campaign Trail,” spotlights their role in developing styles in Presidential campaigns.

In addition to a small theater where films and documentaries of the First Ladies are shown, the center has a collection of related artifacts and photos while a small library room replicates the first White House library created by Abigail Fillmore, wife of President Millard Fillmore.

According to Rebecca Knaggs, park guide, the museum doesn’t interpret the most recent First Ladies, but the National Park Service does include an online biography of former First Lady Melania Trump at
Admission to the Research Center is free while the fee for the Saxton-McKinley House is $7.

Benders Tavern since 1902
Cantons Benders Tavern serving since 1902
For more history, have lunch or dinner at Bender’s Tavern, 137 Court Street, which has been serving food and libations since 1902. Over the years, Bender’s has retained much of its vintage atmosphere (tiger oak paneling, marble wainscoting, stained glass windows and tin ceilings). In its early years, women and men entered via separate doors. A plaque on an exterior wall testifies to this practice of antique etiquette, and the building is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Inside Benders Tavern.
Inside Historic Benders Tavern.
 Beer lovers might want to add Canton’s new Hall of Fame Hops Craft Brew Trail to heir itinerary. The fifteen breweries on the trail can be found on a mobile passport. Simply sign on for free, and the passport will be sent to your phone via text or email. No app is needed.
Canton Brewing Sign photo by Joseph
Canton Brewing Sign a stop on the Hall of Fame Craft Brew Trail photo by Joseph

Present your phone passport at each location for available discounts and possible prizes. For more information, visit

Mausoleum of William McKinley.

This large circular, domed mausoleum is the final resting place of William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States.
At 800 McKinley Memorial Drive NW the impressive and well designed McKinley Memorial holds the remains of our 25th President along with that of his wife, Ida and their two daughters. After McKinley died from an assassin’s bullet while attending the Pan-American Expo in Buffalo in 1901, his body was returned to Canton with the intention of having it rest in a fitting memorial. Construction of the imposing building was completed in 1907 atop a high rise now accessible via a lengthy staircase of 108 steps.
Entrance to the interior of the memorial is permitted April 1 through November 1 and allows visitors to see McKinley’s marble sarcophagus perched high on a catafalque and the spectacular stained glass dome that tops the memorial.
The McKinley Sarcophagus.
The McKinley Sarcophagus.

To learn more about McKinley, visit the Presidential Library and Museum in a spacious building near the foot of the memorial. The second floor holds a Street of Shops to give visitors a feel for what it was like to live in the 19th century with looks inside a barber shop, cabinet shop, blacksmith shop, department store and more.

A McKinley era display.
A McKinley era display.

The nearby McKinley Gallery holds the world’s largest collection of McKinley related artifacts.
Veering away from the McKinley theme, the museum also holds Discovery Center, an interactive science center, and the Hoover-Price Planetarium. For more information, go to

Art lovers might want to visit the Canton Museum of Art, 1001 Market Ave. N., where the focus is on American works on paper from the 19th century forward and an emphasis on watercolors and ceramics from the 1950s on.
Art Installation at Canton Museum of Art.
Canton is proud of their cities stunning Public Art installations. This one is outside the Canton Museum of Art.
Some of the represented artists include Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, John Singleton Sargent, Winslow Homer and Andy Warhol.  With more than 1,500 pieces, the Museum’s collection is regarded as one of the best of its kind in Ohio. For more information, go to
If you’re planning a Canton visit, special discounts redeemable at participating restaurants, attractions, museums, and shops are available via a VIP  Visitors Savings Pass at
     For more information on Canton and the surrounding area, go to or phone 800-552-6051.

 For a Place to Stay

The Doubletree is located in the heart of Downtown Canton at 320 Market Ave. S. Amenities include free WiFi, an indoor pool and a fitness and business center. Be sure to check out the stylish, in-house restaurant 330 Grill and Bar. Phone 330- 471-8000.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.